Football: Baggio attributes recall to willpower

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ROBERTO BAGGIO says he is returning to the World Cup finals determined to help Italy win the tournament at his third attempt.

Baggio, Italy's hero of USA '94 until the final, was named in coach Cesare Maldini's squad for France 98 this week, a year after he last played for the national side.

"More than anything else, just let me say how happy I am," the Bologna forward said. "I'd been wishing and hoping to go to the World Cup finals.

"In the last few months, there were times when I felt that I would make it, and there were times when I wasn't so sure, when I was frightened I wasn't doing enough to convince Maldini.

"But in the end I think sheer willpower - the desire to overcome every obstacle - was the deciding factor. And I think that my recent performances, and the goals, dispelled the final doubts. I'd like to dedicate this call- up to all the people who had faith in me, even during the difficult times. Not just Bologna fans, but also the supporters of other clubs."

Baggio could not gauge the importance of his widespread popular support for his return to the national fold. "You'll have to ask Maldini about that," he said. "I've tried to earn it on the pitch. Cesare has known me for a long time and, if he's made this decision, it's because he thinks a player with my characteristics could be useful."

Baggio spared a thought for the man he may have to replace in France 98, Alessandro Del Piero, who has a thigh injury and may now miss the finals. "I hope he recovers as soon as possible," said Baggio of his former Juventus team-mate. "I've said it before and I'll say it again, in our role Ale is the better player, partly because he has youth on his side. I'm just happy to be going, and I don't like the idea of benefiting from other people's bad luck. My job is just to be ready. As and when I'm needed, I'll be there to play my part."

That part has inevitably changed over the years. Maldini's concern last summer was just how suited Baggio was to the hustle and bustle of modern football after a disappointing two-year spell at Milan.

Baggio's personal record of 22 goals this season answered that question, but he admitted: "I've had to adapt to today's more muscular game. It's a sign of the times - 15 years ago you could still be a soloist. That said, putting all the different interpretations to one side, football is still football."